21 February 2012
Al Lagan, CNEWA donor, Joseph Hazboun, Jerusalem office manager, and Sami El Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel, chat outside the CNEWA-Pontifical Mission office in Jerusalem. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
CNEWA’s Father Guido Gockel, M.H.M., and Gabriel Delmonaco recently accompanied a group of friends and benefactors on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Last Wednesday, 15 February, was an important day. Early in the morning, after crossing the New Gate and entering the Christian Quarter, only after a few steps on the uneven cobble stones, we saw the emerald-green iron gates of CNEWA’s office in Jerusalem (known locally as the Pontifical Mission). Sami El Yousef, the regional director, was already waiting for us on the threshold of the door with a welcoming smile. “Marhaba,” he said and introduced us to his devoted staff members ready to discuss with us the mission and operations of the office.
CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission recently celebrated its 60th year in the Holy Land. In 1949, right after the war and the subsequent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Pope Pius XII decided to create a pontifical agency for the relief of refugees. Born as a temporary organization to respond to an emergency, the Pontifical Mission has grown in its scope and outreach, step by step with the problems of this troubled land.
Sami recalled that some Palestinian families who had lived in western Jerusalem for generations fled to the eastern part of the city and sought temporary refuge in his parents’ house that had some extra room. They told Sami’s family that they felt this war would be over in a few days and they could return to their homes soon. They fled with a few possessions and most importantly with the key to their house that they jealously kept. Days, months and more than 60 years went by and none of these families were able to return home. All the initial members died with the hope to receive justice and now their children carry the same dream. Some of them very cynically said that they’ll never see peace during their lifetime, but they still preserve the key of their parents’ house.
Gathered around a table with staff members, during the first 20 minutes of our meeting we watched a moving video presentation prepared to mark the 60th anniversary of this office. As the images and the voice of the narrator went through the six decades of struggle and hope, we realized how much was accomplished in the name of the Holy Father by a rather small staff. Food, housing, support, jobs, restoration of churches and negotiations are just some of the important needs addressed by the Pontifical Mission.
As the conversation proceeded, Sami presented the geopolitical and demographic analysis of the area. We all realized something very important, which explains the dedication and unity of this office. Our staff members are all Palestinians; they lived through the struggles and challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian violence. Some had their land confiscated, so that a dividing wall could be built in the name of security. Others saw their children emigrate abroad. All have to go through the indignity and inconvenience of crossing through check points to visit our programs and projects. But in the middle of all this, the Pontifical Mission provides hope and comfort, thanks to a dedicated staff who can understand this conflict because they are part of it. All our benefactors on this trip acknowledged the sacrifice and stoicism of these unknown heroes.
As the day unfolded, we continued with the visitation of other holy sites, following in the steps of Jesus in Jerusalem. I believe that whenever any of us knelt to pray, we could not stop thinking of how fortunate we are to enjoy freedom in our own country. We could not stop thinking of how fortunate we are to entrust the work of CNEWA in the Holy Land to such a dedicated and concerned staff. Shukran!
Tags: CNEWA Palestine Israel Jerusalem Unity